As the pandemic turns endemic, healthcare providers have been eagerly urging patients to return to their offices to enjoy the benefits of in-person care.
The last two years have forced all sorts of organizations to be nimble, adaptable and creative in how they work, and this includes healthcare providers’ efforts to maintain continuity of care under the most challenging of conditions. So before we go back to “business as usual,” don’t we owe it to those providers and ourselves to admit that business as usual did not work for most of the people the industry exists to help? If we’re going to embrace yet another period of change – periods that don’t happen often in our complex industry – shouldn’t we first stop and ask ourselves what we’re trying to achieve?
Certainly, COVID has shown that telehealth can be an invaluable tool, particularly for patients in rural and underserved communities that lack access to specialty care. It’s also become clear that many – though not all – healthcare encounters can be effectively conducted from afar. That said, the telehealth tactics that filled the gap during the pandemic were largely stitched together substitutes for existing visit-based workflows: with offices closed, patients scheduled video visits for help managing the side effects of their blood pressure medications or to see their endocrinologist for a quarterly check-in. Anyone whose children slogged through the last year or two of remote learning can tell you that simply virtualizing existing processes doesn’t necessarily improve the experience or the outcomes!
But what if our approach to post-pandemic healthcare came from a patient-driven perspective? We have a fleeting opportunity to advance a care model centered on convenient and equitable access that first prioritizes good outcomes, then selects approaches to care – and locations – tailored to each patient. Using the example of education, imagine how effective it would be if each student, regardless of their school district and aptitude, received such individualized attention.
That’s the idea behind virtual-first care (V1C), a new care model centered on convenient, customized, high-quality care that integrates a full suite of services tailored directly to patients’ clinical needs and preferences. This package includes asynchronous communication such as texting; video and other live virtual modes; and in-person options.
V1C goes beyond what you might think of as standard “telehealth” by using evidence-based protocols and tools that include traditional and digital therapeutics and testing, personalized care plans, dynamic patient monitoring, and team-based approaches to care. This could include spit kits mailed for laboratory tests and complementing clinical care with health coaching. V1C also replaces some in-person exams with ongoing monitoring, using sensors for more ‘whole person’ care.
Amidst all this momentum, we have the opportunity to rethink the goals of healthcare innovation, but that means bringing together key stakeholders to demonstrate that sustainable V1C can redefine healthcare.
Established V1C healthcare providers such as Omada, Headspace, and Heartbeat Health, as well as emerging market entrants like Oshi, Visana, and Wellinks, work with a variety of patients who have complicated long-term conditions such as diabetes, heart failure, gastrointestinal illness, endometriosis, and COPD. V1C is comprehensive in ways that are lacking in digital health and its other predecessors: it has the potential to integrate multiple data streams, incorporate more frequent touches and check-ins over time, and manage a much wider range of chronic health conditions, improving lives and reducing disease burden now and in the future.
Recognizing the pandemic-driven interest in virtual care, significant energy and resources are already flowing fast toward V1C. Some of the world’s largest innovators jumped into V1C early on: Verily, Alphabet’s Life Sciences Company, launched Onduo in 2016 to disrupt the diabetes healthcare market, and is now well positioned to scale its solutions. Major insurers like Aetna and United now offer virtual-first plans to members, responding as organizations expand virtual options for employees. Amidst all this momentum, we have the opportunity to rethink the goals of healthcare innovation, but that means bringing together key stakeholders to demonstrate that sustainable V1C can redefine healthcare.
That was the immediate impetus for IMPACT, a consortium of V1C companies, investors, payers and patients founded last year to ensure access to high-quality, evidence-based V1C. Developed by our team at the Digital Medicine Society (DiMe) in collaboration with the American Telemedicine Association (ATA), IMPACT has begun to explore key issues that include giving patients more integrated experiences when accessing both virtual and brick-and-mortar care.
Digital Medicine Society
V1C is not, nor should it be, virtual-only care. In this new era of hybrid healthcare, success will be defined by how well providers help patients navigate the transitions. How do we smoothly hand a patient off from an onsite primary care physician to, say, a virtual cardiologist? How do we get information from a brick-and-mortar to a digital portal? How do you manage dataflow while still staying HIPAA compliant? There are many complex regulatory implications for these new models, as well as an evolving landscape in terms of privacy, security and interoperability. It will be no small task for groups like IMPACT to determine the best path forward.
None of these factors matter unless the industry can recruit and retain clinicians. Our field is facing an unprecedented workforce crisis. Traditional healthcare is making clinicians miserable, and COVID has only accelerated the trend of overworked, disenchanted healthcare workers leaving in droves. Clinicians want more interactions with patients, and fewer with computer screens – call it “More face time, less FaceTime.” No new model will succeed unless the industry can more efficiently deploy its talent – arguably its most scarce and precious resource. V1C can help with alleviating the increasing burden and frustration borne by individual physicians in today’s status quo.
In healthcare, new technological approaches inevitably provoke no shortage of skepticism. Past lessons from Silicon Valley-driven fixes have led to understandable cynicism. But V1C is a different breed of animal. By building healthcare around the patient, not the clinic, V1C can make healthcare work better for patients, payers and providers. We’re at a fork in the road: we can revert back to a broken sick-care system, or dig in and do the hard work of figuring out how this future-forward healthcare system gets financed, organized and executed. As a field, we must find the courage and summon the energy to embrace this moment, and make it a moment of change.
No human has run a distance of 100 meters faster than Usain Bolt’s lightning streak in 2009. He set this record at age 22. But what will Bolt’s time be when he’s 105?
At the Louisiana Senior Games in November 2021, 105-year-old Julia Hawkins of Baton Rouge became the oldest woman to run 100 meters in an official competition, qualifying her for this year's National Senior Games. Perhaps not surprisingly, she was the only competitor in the race for people 105 and older. In this Leaps.org video, I interview Hawkins about her lifestyle habits over the decades. Then I ask Steven Austad, a pioneer in studying the mechanisms of aging, for his scientific insights into how those aspiring to become super-agers might follow in Hawkins' remarkable footsteps.
Following the Footsteps of a 105-Year-Old SprinterNo human has run a distance of 100 meters faster than Usain Bolt’s lightning streak in 2009. He set this record at age 22. But what will Bolt’s time be when ...
A new virus has emerged and stoked fears of another pandemic: monkeypox. Since May 2022, it has been detected in 29 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico among international travelers and their close contacts. On a worldwide scale, as of June 30, there have been 5,323 cases in 52 countries.
The good news: An existing vaccine can go a long way toward preventing a catastrophic outbreak. Because monkeypox is a close relative of smallpox, the same vaccine can be used—and it is about 85 percent effective against the virus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Also on the plus side, monkeypox is less contagious with milder illness than smallpox and, compared to COVID-19, produces more telltale signs. Scientists think that a “ring” vaccination strategy can be used when these signs appear to help with squelching this alarming outbreak.
How it’s transmitted
Monkeypox spreads between people primarily through direct contact with infectious sores, scabs, or bodily fluids. People also can catch it through respiratory secretions during prolonged, face-to-face contact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As of June 30, there have been 396 documented monkeypox cases in the U.S., and the CDC has activated its Emergency Operations Center to mobilize additional personnel and resources. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is aiming to boost testing capacity and accessibility. No Americans have died from monkeypox during this outbreak but, during the COVID-19 pandemic (February 2020 to date), Africa has documented 12,141 cases and 363 deaths from monkeypox.
Ring vaccination proved effective in curbing the smallpox and Ebola outbreaks. As the monkeypox threat continues to loom, scientists view this as the best vaccine approach.
A person infected with monkeypox typically has symptoms—for instance, fever and chills—in a contagious state, so knowing when to avoid close contact with others makes it easier to curtail than COVID-19.
Advantages of ring vaccination
For this reason, it’s feasible to vaccinate a “ring” of people around the infected individual rather than inoculating large swaths of the population. Ring vaccination proved effective in curbing the smallpox and Ebola outbreaks. As the monkeypox threat continues to loom, scientists view this as the best vaccine approach.
With many infections, “it normally would make sense to everyone to vaccinate more widely,” says Wesley C. Van Voorhis, a professor and director of the Center for Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. However, “in this case, ring vaccination may be sufficient to contain the outbreak and also minimize the rare, but potentially serious side effects of the smallpox/monkeypox vaccine.”
There are two licensed smallpox vaccines in the United States: ACAM2000 (live Vaccina virus) and JYNNEOS (live virus non-replicating). The ACAM 2000, Van Voorhis says, is the old smallpox vaccine that, in rare instances, could spread diffusely within the body and cause heart problems, as well as severe rash in people with eczema or serious infection in immunocompromised patients.
To prevent organ damage, the current recommendation would be to use the JYNNEOS vaccine, says Phyllis Kanki, a professor of health sciences in the division of immunology and infectious diseases at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. However, according to a report on the CDC’s website, people with immunocompromising conditions could have a higher risk of getting a severe case of monkeypox, despite being vaccinated, and “might be less likely to mount an effective response after any vaccination, including after JYNNEOS.”
In the late 1960s, the ring vaccination strategy became part of the WHO’s mission to globally eradicate smallpox, with the last known natural case described in Somalia in 1977. Ring vaccination can also refer to how a clinical trial is designed, as was the case in 2015, when this approach was used for researching the benefits of an investigational Ebola vaccine in Guinea, Kanki says.
“Since Monkeypox spreads by close contact and we have an effective vaccine, vaccinating high-risk individuals and their contacts may be a good strategy to limit transmission,” she says, adding that privacy is an important ethical principle that comes into play, as people with monkeypox would need to disclose their close contacts so that they could benefit from ring vaccination.
Rapid identification of cases and contacts—along with their cooperation—is essential for ring vaccination to be effective. Although mass vaccination also may work, the risk of infection to most of the population remains low while supply of the JYNNEOS vaccine is limited, says Stanley Deresinski, a clinical professor of medicine in the Infectious Disease Clinic at Stanford University School of Medicine.
Other strategies for preventing transmission
Ideally, the vaccine should be administered within four days of an exposure, but it’s recommended for up to 14 days. The WHO also advocates more widespread vaccination campaigns in the population segment with the most cases so far: men who engage in sex with other men.
The virus appears to be spreading in sexual networks, which differs from what was seen in previously reported outbreaks of monkeypox (outside of Africa), where risk was associated with travel to central or west Africa or various types of contact with individuals or animals from those locales. There is no evidence of transmission by food, but contaminated articles in the environment such as bedding are potential sources of the virus, Deresinski says.
Severe cases of monkeypox can occur, but “transmission of the virus requires close contact,” he says. “There is no evidence of aerosol transmission, as occurs with SARS-CoV-2, although it must be remembered that the smallpox virus, a close relative of monkeypox, was transmitted by aerosol.”
Deresinski points to the fact that in 2003, monkeypox was introduced into the U.S. through imports from Ghana of infected small mammals, such as Gambian giant rats, as pets. They infected prairie dogs, which also were sold as pets and, ultimately, this resulted in 37 confirmed transmissions to humans and 10 probable cases. A CDC investigation identified no cases of human-to-human transmission. Then, in 2021, a traveler flew from Nigeria to Dallas through Atlanta, developing skin lesions several days after arrival. Another CDC investigation yielded 223 contacts, although 85 percent were deemed to be at only minimal risk and the remainder at intermediate risk. No new cases were identified.
How much should we be worried
But how serious of a threat is monkeypox this time around? “Right now, the risk to the general public is very low,” says Scott Roberts, an assistant professor and associate medical director of infection prevention at Yale School of Medicine. “Monkeypox is spread through direct contact with infected skin lesions or through close contact for a prolonged period of time with an infected person. It is much less transmissible than COVID-19.”
The monkeypox incubation period—the time from infection until the onset of symptoms—is typically seven to 14 days but can range from five to 21 days, compared with only three days for the Omicron variant of COVID-19. With such a long incubation, there is a larger window to conduct contact tracing and vaccinate people before symptoms appear, which can prevent infection or lessen the severity.
But symptoms may present atypically or recognition may be delayed. “Ring vaccination works best with 100 percent adherence, and in the absence of a mandate, this is not achievable,” Roberts says.
At the outset of infection, symptoms include fever, chills, and fatigue. Several days later, a rash becomes noticeable, usually beginning on the face and spreading to other parts of the body, he says. The rash starts as flat lesions that raise and develop fluid, similar to manifestations of chickenpox. Once the rash scabs and falls off, a person is no longer contagious.
“It's an uncomfortable infection,” says Van Voorhis, the University of Washington School of Medicine professor. There may be swollen lymph nodes. Sores and rash are often limited to the genitals and areas around the mouth or rectum, suggesting intimate contact as the source of spread.
Symptoms of monkeypox usually last from two to four weeks. The WHO estimated that fatalities range from 3 to 6 percent. Although it’s believed to infect various animal species, including rodents and monkeys in west and central Africa, “the animal reservoir for the virus is unknown,” says Kanki, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health professor.
Too often, viruses originate in parts of the world that are too poor to grapple with them and may lack the resources to invest in vaccines and treatments. “This disease is endemic in central and west Africa, and it has basically been ignored until it jumped to the north and infected Europeans, Americans, and Canadians,” Van Voorhis says. “We have to do a better job in health care and prevention all over the world. This is the kind of thing that comes back to bite us.”